February 2, 2010 | 9:39 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
The recent change in title conferred upon my Morethodoxy colleague Sara Hurwitz has naturally generated a lot of intense reaction. Mahara”t Hurwitz is now Rabbah Hurwitz, as affirmed by the certificate that Rabbis Weiss and Sperber have newly updated. For all intents and purposes, the gender line in Orthodox ordination has been crossed and Sara has been named a rabbi. It’s not surprising that this development has elicited negative response even within the ranks of Modern Orthodoxy, which, in the final analysis, is a fundamentally traditional movement. We are, after all, Orthodox.
But it’s vitally important to distinguish between legitimate criticism that merits reflection and discussion, and disingenuous and overheated rhetoric which thoughtful and serious Modern Orthodox Jews are obligated to reject as a matter of intellectual and religious principle. Legitimate criticism would focus on the questions of timing and long-term strategies. Should the Mahara”t model been given significantly more time to develop before being surpassed? Might the ordination cause have ultimately been better served through twenty Mahara”ts first establishing a track record of exemplary service to the Orthodox community over a span of 10 or 15 years? Does the move to full ordination right now compromise the ability of today’s Modern Orthodox community to solidly establish itself within the broader YU/OU/RCA community as an ideological force that cannot be dismissed or marginalized? Is the Modern Orthodox laity ready for this yet? These are legitimate and serious questions, forming the basis of potentially legitimate criticism.
But we need to respond bluntly to criticisms that are inherently disingenuous, and which negate numerous spiritual, moral, and halachik principles that we hold dear. In recent days, there are those who have contended that the move to “Rabbah” constitutes a departure into “Post-Orthodoxy”, into a realm that is outside of and irremediably irreconcilable with Orthodox practice and law. This claim and its variants are disingenuous and polemical, intended to pre-empt honest conversation, rather than to contribute to it. Disingenuous in the sense, that they could only sincerely be made by people who honestly subscribe to one or more of the following propositions:
(1) Women don’t have the intellectual capacity to actually master the Orthodox Semicha curriculum.
(2) Women are halachikly barred from teaching Torah publicly, or from tending to the pastoral needs of fellow Jews, or from responding to the common battery of day-to-day halachik questions that Orthodox rabbis need to field.
(3) As full members of the human community, women are entitled to earn PhD’s, head corporations, and hold any elective office in the land, but are inherently disqualified for a position as prestigious as the contemporary rabbinate.
(4) Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.
(5) Orthodox religious leadership is just fine the way it is, and could only be harmed by the contributions of the other half of the population.
I’d be shocked if the “Post-Orthodoxy” accusers believe any of these 5.
If you too find the 5 assertions above to be alien to the Orthodox Judaism you practice, then speak up when you hear criticisms that clearly rest upon them. Let there be robust debate about “Rabbah”, but don’t let the debate be hijacked by rhetorical hot air.
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